In 1884, newspaper printer T.B. Dowden ran out of space at the end of an article for the Cincinnati Gazette about Republican politician James Gillespie Blaine, who had just been nominated for the U.S. presidency. Dowden's copy ended with the phrase "Grand Old Party," and up against a deadline and a line count, he had to get creative to make the copy fit.
And so, the next morning, the front page of the Cincinnati Gazette read "The Hon. James G. Blaine will address the meeting on 'the achievements of the Gop.'" Dowden is credited as the first person to use "GOP" in print.
The story of the first use of the now-ubiquitous acronym is a neat part of the Republican Party's history, but it's hardly the whole story. "GOP" stands for Grand Old Party, but why?
The Democratic-Republican Party
For that we have to talk about the history of the two main political parties' origins. Democrats and Republicans were both born from the Democratic-Republican Party (also known as Jeffersonian Republicans), which was founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the 1790s. The party favored political equality, expansionism and the philosophy of republicanism, which holds liberty, individual rights and the power of the people as central values.
The Democratic-Republican Party eventually broke into factions during the 1824 presidential election. Splintering was only a matter of time as four Democratic-Republicans sought the presidency, including Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford and Henry Clay. No candidate won the electoral vote, and the House of Representatives held a contingent election to choose the president. Adams eventually won.
Eventually, the Democratic Party took its name in 1844 and the Republican Party took its name in 1854, uniting former Whigs (those who favored higher tariffs, distributing land revenues to states, and passing economic relief legislation), like-minded Democrats and abolitionists.
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
This fusion of ideologies in the newly formed Republican Party was, ironically, primarily driven by a Democratic-supported effort. Namely, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a piece of legislation that allowed slavery to expand into western territories. After it passed, a period of violent anti- and pro- slavery confrontations arose known as Bleeding Kansas — an antecedent to the Civil War.
The debate over slavery intensified over the next several years as a young Abraham Lincoln was beginning to get his political footing. Lincoln vehemently opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and would steadily bring his anti-slavery rhetoric into his political speeches in ensuing years. By 1860, Lincoln won the Republican Party's presidential nomination and soon the presidency. Then in 1861, seven states declared secession, with four more states joining the Confederacy several months later. You know the rest. The Civil War ended in 1865 when Confederate generals surrendered.
But back to the GOP. A few years earlier in 1859, Kentucky's Democratic Governor Beriah Magoffin — a staunch neutralist during the Civil War — harkened back to his party's Democratic-Republic Party origins in his inaugural address by saying, "The Grand Old Party has never changed its name, its purposes or its principles, nor has it ever broken its pledges."
And in 1858, a Democratic newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut, also alluded to the Grand Old Party in reference to Democrats, publishing the phrase "this Grand Old Party is divided and in danger of defeat."
But by the 1870s, the moniker had become solidified to the Republican Party. Politicians and newspapers began referring to the Republican Party as the Grand Old Party and the gallant old party — a salute to its role in preserving the Union during the Civil War.